Around ten per cent of bee hives collapse each year in New Zealand and that figure is steadily rising.
There are a variety of reasons for bee hive collapses – varroa bee mite infestation, wasps, lack of food. The impact isn’t just felt across the honey industry either – bees pollinate all kinds of plants and have a huge role to play in tree and crop farming, dairy farming, and our annual meat production as well as honey.
But for most bee keepers, knowing what goes on inside the hive is a bit of a problem. The hives are placed in remote locations, well off the beaten track and typically the only time the keepers visit the hives is to put them in place or to take them out at the end of the season.
And then there’s the scale. Domestic bee keepers might have two or three hives. Commercial keepers have thousands and it’s simply not cost effective to try to get out to see each one on a regular basis to see how they’re doing.
So for most bee keepers the first time they know about a problem with a hive is when they go in to retrieve it, possibly with an expensive helicopter, crew and truck operation, and find out it’s dead.
Enter the world of precision farming, or in this case precision bee keeping, where information is power. Knowing what’s going on inside the hive is just as important as knowing what’s going on inside the cowshed or orchard. What are the bees doing? Is the hive warm enough? Are the bees going out and coming back in on a regular basis? How much does the hive weigh now?
Fortunately commercial operators can get these kinds of metrics delivered to their laptops without having to visit each hive individually.
Remote monitoring of hives, with data delivered via cellular or satellite service, means bee keepers can see at a glance what the hive is up to. If it’s not gaining weight then something is wrong – time to schedule that trip in. If it’s gaining weight perhaps you don’t want to pull the hive out too early but should leave it there for a few more days to see how much more honey can be produced.
Information of this kind is essential if you’re to conquer the colony collapse problem and if it means you can halve that loss rate to five per cent, that’s five per cent more honey per hive that you can harvest at the end of the season.